Yesterday’s Observer, carried a particularly scathing editorial of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership candidacy. Whilst the assumption that this leadership election is an ‘inwardly facing’ contest is quantifiable; the claim that the Labour Party is having an existential crisis is not. In this year’s general election, the number of people who voted Labour increased from around 8.6 million in 2010 to around 9.3 million in 2015. The share of the vote increased by around 1.5%. We lost catastrophically in Scotland, but not in other parts of the UK. The scale of defeat for the party and it’s membership are telling.
The Observer believes that Ed Miliband failed to win the General Election because he took the Labour Party too far away from the centre. This, is untrue. The Labour Party lost the election due a number of issues, including the surge of Scottish nationalism and the Tories successfully exploiting the success of the SNP in Scotland by tapping into English nationalism and bringing it into the political mainstream. Of course, the Labour Party cannot place all of the blame on outside influences, it must shoulder some of the responsibility. The problem with Labour and why it failed to win both north and south of the border is that it failed to offer a coherent alternative to nationalism. At least in Scotland, Labour were capitulating to nationalism as soon as Jim Murphy stepped in as leader for the longest six months ever. They saw the success the SNP had with transforming the narrative from a class based Scottish political psyche to a nation based Scottish political psyche and believed that they could replicate the same success by introducing “The patriot clause”.
But the damage had already been done. Better Together, for the Scottish Labour Party, was indeed, the longest suicide in history. For Scottish Labour voters, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It could also be argued that the infighting that went on in Scottish Labour after the referendum and in the run up to the general election also contributed to their depressing result in Scotland, after all, it was party infighting that ultimately led Labour to lose the 1983 election.
Ed Miliband’s policies ultimately won Labour more of the popular vote than Gordon Brown did in 2010 and this was with a more markedly left-wing manifesto than had been published since at least the 1980s. If Labour are proposing more “left-wing” options than they were in 2010, then surely this is a step in the right direction to winning again? The problem with Labour’s 2010 ‘strategy’ was that it was unclear what the message was. Labour was too stuck in the centre-ground. Let’s not forget that the Labour Party is a “democratic socialist” party.It is clear that The Oberver’s editorial team do not spend a great deal of time speaking to voters and to members of the public. Many of the complaints voters have about their ‘representatives’ is that they are all the same. This, any political activist will tell you, is one of the most common complaints of all. Ed Miliband’s image problem -that was played up by the media- was not helpful. What Glaswegian living on a council estate could relate to Oxford educated Ed Miliband? Whether we like it or not, today’s politics means that image is becoming increasingly important. Yet the editorial plays no heed to image and public perception. It does not elude to the public’s perception of Jeremy Corbyn.
The public perception of Labour, or at least for people who jumped ship to vote Conservative, is that of a “tax the rich and give benefits to the poor” party. The Observer attempts to back this up by citing “evidence” from two former Labour election directors who interviewed a number of people who left Labour to vote Conservative. Interestingly, these two directors made no attempt to interview people in Scotland who abandoned Labour to vote SNP or to vote UKIP in England. This was where we haemorraghed most of our votes, not to the Conservatives. There was a concerning amount of people who believed Labour had messed up the economy and that the Conservatives were fixing it. They saw Labour as a party of welfare handouts, despite Labour supporting the benefit cap.
During the general election, Labour campaigned positively. They announced policies such as an end to zero hour contracts, an end to fees for employment tribunals, regulating the energy market and making the rich pay their fair share of tax. Labour was up against an increasingly hostile media during the campaign where there were personal attacks launched at Ed Miliband, where 100 prominent Conservatives wrote a letter to The Times and various other media outlets to warn people against voting Labour because they were anti-business. Labour was resilient and instead of backing down, rolling over and playing ball, they retaliated with another letter with 100 working people who said otherwise.
So, the answer is not to re-occupy the centre ground. Labour has adopted a centrist, third way approach in the past and lost votes quickly afterwards. The answer, hopefully, is in something completely new. Many laud Corbyn as a relic from the past, but his campaign is invigorating, it is led and staffed mainly by young people and they are storming social media. Corbyn’s public events are bringing people back to the Labour Party, it is standing room only. Corbyn is a mild-mannered socialist. His ideas may be radical, but he is able to change the goalposts.
‘Labour should own up and admit they got it wrong. They came across as muddled and didn’t know what to do. They seemed to be on the side of people on the social not people in the middle like us.’ Elaine, Croydon Central
‘People shouldn’t be allowed to sit at home and live on benefits if there’s work to be done. Benefits were all right when they were first brought in, but now, for some people, they seem to be a way of life.’ Mike, Croydon Central
‘It’s not up to the government to provide good jobs; that sounds like the nanny state. It’s down to businesses … and Labour came across as anti-business.’ Dave, Watford
‘It might be the moral thing to look after those refugees, but we can’t let them in while we’ve got two million unemployed.’ Tim, Pudsey
When newspapers such as The Observer suggest that Labour is out of touch with what the public wants, it doesn’t suggest that people have the power to convince the public otherwise. The British electorate have been blackmailed over the last thirty five years, by the right-wing media. They have been fed right wing dogma that has permeated through the last three decades. There has been nothing to change that idea. With a leader like Jeremy Corbyn, we can begin to present an alternative- a real alternative- to the kind of thinking that has permeated British politics for far too long.